A few hundred years before the ancient Egyptians constructed the Pyramids of Giza, a seed germinated in the soil of western North America. Today, nearly 5,000 years later, that seed lives on as Methuselah—the current oldest tree on Earth. This tree came into existence when the world population was less than 14 million people, lived through the invention of alphabetic writing, and was standing strong at over 2,000 years old during the rise and demise of the Roman Empire. Through everything I’ve learned about geologic time, the vastness of the cosmos, and the depths of the oceans, few things have inspired me more than the mighty tree.
Trees have existed as long as many of the rocks on Earth and they have a rich and complex evolutionary history and have played a key role in the development of biological life. Trees carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, allowing them to live. The photosynthetic byproduct of their survival is oxygen, a gas that is directly responsible for supporting other life on the planet. Aside from enabling us to live, many of their characteristics are simply magical to me. The giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) serves as a good example, as it is capable of growing from a tiny seed weighing less than one gram to an 85-meter (275 ft.) tall, 1.2 million-kilogram (2.7 million lbs.) behemoth. A single quaking aspen tree (Populus tremuloides), that is connected through an underground root system, exists in south-central Utah and it occupies 106 acres and has a weight of 6 million kilograms, making it the heaviest organism on the planet. A substantial body of scientific evidence now suggests that some trees of the same species can communicate and form alliances via interconnected fungal networks that exist a few inches beneath the forest floor.
Trees are truly fascinating organisms whose importance should be appreciated. In celebration of trees, I want to give a special shoutout to all the beautiful trees that line our streets and campus. We are fortunate to share the land with organisms of such grandeur.